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Car technology bring simplicity to all, except …

As advances in automobile technology make drivers’ life simpler, and as the car takes over more and more of the role of the motorist, life is becoming more complex than ever for the manufacturers.

That is the conundrum facing auto makers as they make the transition from being vehicle businesses to being technology businesses.

“It’s making our job more difficult,” acknowledges Roel de Vries, global head of marketing and brand strategy of Nissan Motor Corporation. “The world of the consumer has already become easier. In future, whenever you want information while driving, you will get it, whether from the car itself or via the technology you have in the vehicle. Everything will be available in one app .

“For us as manufacturers, it’s much more complex, because we have an enormous increase in the amount of technology we have to put in our cars. We have to talk much more as technology companies as opposed to traditional car companies. We need to invest in the integration of all touch points with all consumers.”

De Vries’s comments come as Nissan prepares to make its first appearance at January’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Most of its major rivals have used it in recent years as a platform to unveil their latest connected car and autonomous vehicle technology.

Nissan will join more than a dozen car makers at CES, and chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn will deliver a keynote address in which new technology advances and partnerships will be announced. All will have one core focus: to benefit the consumer.

The biggest shifts have already begun, says De Vries, a Dutch-born engineer and businessman now based in Tokyo.

“The advances in general has been in electrification and connectivity, and autonomous driving is part of that. In vehicles, we are moving to a world where all cars are connected, many cars are electric and some cars have more and more autonomous features.

“But that’s just one aspect of the shift. In marketing, we are moving to a world where we must digitise all platforms between the customer and the brand, from the dealer to finance company to customer care.”

The difference between this approach and the industry’s many digital marketing initiatives of the past is that digital is no longer one of many strategies; it is the only strategy. De Vries made waves two years ago when he told the Wall Street Journal that the word “digital” should disappear from marketing. Today, most cutting edge companies take that view for granted.

De Vries believes the electric car will become mainstream within the next decade, as battery density increases and costs come down, sparking acceleration in consumer demand. The current marketing strategy is geared to this future.

And then there are the complex debates around self-driving.

“We don’t realise just how fast we are moving to autonomous driving, but for us it’s not about robot cars or 100 per cent self-driving cars without steering wheels. That is a portion of market, but the exciting part of autonomous driving is technology that allows you to be more confident and safe when driving, and get time back, for example, when the car takes over in heavy traffic.

“The bigger discussion will come when we take all responsibility away from the driver. We believe that will happen one day, but it is not the biggest part of autonomous driving.“

  • This column first appeared in Business Times in the Sunday Times on 6 November 2016.


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